Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
To the relief of New York Jets fans, the team signed wide receiver Eric Decker after the first two days of free agency passed with barely a whisper from Florham Park.
As reported by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Decker and the team signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract with $15 million in guaranteed money.
It’s incredibly hard to get a firm grasp of what to expect from Decker for many reasons.
First, Geno Smith is an unproven quarterback who struggled much of the season, though he improved as the season went on. Any quarterback is a step down from a future Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning, but even though Smith could prove to be a very good starter, this is more akin to a stumble down a flight of stairs than a step down.
Can Decker produce? Well, while we can focus on the back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with Manning heaving the ball, we should also remember he caught eight touchdowns and had over 600 yards with Tim Tebow throwing him the ball.
So while he will definitely see a dip in production, it might not be as horrible as many think.
We also should consider that New York is not likely to be done yet. The Jets are very likely to add another free-agent receiver, which will further change his production and potentially his role. Ditto for any addition of a rookie in the upcoming draft.
So let’s talk about what we do know about him and what he can do.
Decker lacks elite speed but is a tough receiver who can come down with contested balls by outmuscling defenders. That makes him a solid red-zone target—something the Jets have lacked for several years.
With Jeremy Kerley mostly in the slot (though with all the injuries, he has shown he can do more), Decker is probably destined more for a role as the “split end” or “X” receiver—a guy normally farthest from the center on his side of the field and often on the opposite side of the field from the tight end.
That means while he will occasionally be asked to go vertical, he’s going to have to get off the jam at the line and could be asked to do some shorter routes as well.
Pro Football Focus tweeted out two charts from some of the material it provides for teams which is worth looking at.
First, it tweeted out a route breakdown for Decker. The chart shows that, out of 87 catches (and 135 targets), Decker was thrown at most on “Go” routes, followed by “Out” routes.
Next, we have Geno Smith’s numbers by route. While Smith threw the ball most on “Hitch” routes, he spread the ball pretty evenly among multiple routes.
He threw specifically to the “Out” route 39 times, completing 20 of those throws or 51.3 percent of them. The completed passes accounted for 278 yards and two touchdowns but also three interceptions.
Smith threw even more often to the receiver on a “Go” route—41 times, his second-highest total after the “Hitch” route. Unfortunately he only completed just 36.6 percent, though he totaled 418 yards (101 after the catch) and six touchdowns. He also threw six interceptions on those plays.
What does this all mean aside from Pro Football Focus teasing us with stats it won’t normally release?
Well, it means Smith and Decker could hook up for quite a few passes, as routes that Decker runs well, Smith tended to throw to.
Again, depending on who else gets pulled into this offense, Decker could see an awful lot of work come his way.
I could absolutely see him grabbing 60-70 balls, totaling somewhere between 700-800 yards and seven or eight touchdowns.
It’s a guess, though, until we see more of the offense come together.